For the week of July 21, 1999  thru July 27, 1999  

The big picture

No alarms go off, no bells ring, no sirens sound as the valley changes. Bit by bit, piece by piece, decision by decision, the blueprint for what the Wood River Valley will become is being drafted now.

Residents need to pay attention and become active in drawing the blueprint for the next 25 years. In looking for solutions, leaders need to keep the big picture in mind.

There are three major proposals under discussion that could dramatically alter the way of life in the valley. They include:

  • Developments that could fill most of the open land between Hailey and Bellevue with light industrial complexes, or possibly commercial buildings.

  • The bid to make McHanville, an area south of Ketchum, into a commercial satellite;

  • The proposal to expand State Highway 75 into a five-lane highway from Timmerman Hill to Ketchum.

Imagine the valley between Bellevue and Ketchum if all were to be built.

The distinction between Bellevue and Hailey would disappear.

Light-industrial-style buildings built of ugly cinderblock or pre-formed concrete would replace the now green fields and line the highway between the two. The property eventually could become highway strip malls or warehouse discount stores.

Expanded to five full lanes, the highway could become the dominate feature in the valley landscape. Businesses on Hailey’s and Bellevue’s main streets could be decimated by higher speeds and islands that make it difficult to get to them.

McHanville could become a classic commercial satellite, and a highway bottleneck. The affordable housing there now could disappear. To make matters worse, nearby lands could also fall to commercial development.

The valley can do better. A little creative planning and some strong political leadership could save the valley from becoming disfigured by the unremitting urban sprawl so common elsewhere.

Hailey, Bellevue and Blaine County could find a way to turn alfalfa fields into ball fields between the two cities. What better place for parks than where the kids are?

Or, the cities could demand a mixed-use development that would allow people to live close to where they work and where their kids play, and protect the cities’ downtowns.

Ketchum could insist on development of affordable housing at McHanville and back it up with extension of the bus system to relieve highway congestion.

All of the cities could put their heads together with the Idaho Transportation Department and find innovative ways to reduce the dominance of highway traffic on the valley. These could include mass transit, paid parking or slowing down traffic valley-wide.

Valley leaders should not adopt solutions just because they are obvious, easier, politically expedient or cheaper. They should stand firm and create a valley in which they wish to live, not a valley they wish to flee.


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